January 27, 2012
Apple Embroiled In Crisis as NY Times Exposes "Atrocious" Working Conditions In China's Foxconn Plant — Making Matters Worse, Apple Exec Says Company Tolerates Abuses "Because the System Works For Us"
Apple's various gadgets have certainly revolutionized the consumer tech market over the last decade — but at what cost? Foxconn, the huge Chinese manufacturer that builds products for Apple (as well as for Nintendo, Microsoft and others) has been the subject of numerous recent reports of atrocious working conditions and employee suicides. A NY Times article this week attacked the company by depicting the incredibly high human costs that go into making its products, which has landed Apple in the PR hot seat again over deplorable plant working conditions, a story that makes the rounds regularly. And with every new story, reporters are quick to ask "why don't the platform holders hold Foxconn accountable and demand change?" And this time, some frightening answers emerged — this week's Times article managed to get comments from an anonymous Apple exec who offered some eye-opening insight into why that doesn't happen. "We've known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they're still going on," the source told the Times. "Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn't have another choice. If half of iPhones were malfunctioning, do you think Apple would let it go on for four years?" The Times report adds that there is a desire within the company to bring about change at the plant, but that falls by the wayside when conflicts crop up over the need to deliver new products on time. For Apple's part, it has brought in a code of conduct that it expects suppliers to adhere to — and some improvements have reportedly been seen — and the company's published reports insist that every disclosed labor violation be addressed, and suppliers that refuse to do so be terminated. However, former executives admitted that, in reality, finding a replacement supplier capable of picking up such a huge manufacturing burden would be both expensive and time consuming, so infractions are often overlooked. "If you see the same pattern of problems, year after year, that means the company's ignoring the issue rather than solving it," said another former Apple exec, Eurogamer.net reports.
"Non-compliance is tolerated, as long as the suppliers promise to try harder next time. If we meant business, core violations would disappear," the exec said. Another source suggested that Apple's demanding list of requirements and the meager profit margins offered to suppliers is partly to blame for corners being cut and labor regulations being neglected. "The only way you make money working for Apple is figuring out how to do things more efficiently or cheaper," said an executive at a company who worked with Apple on the iPad. "And then they'll come back the next year, and force a 10 percent price cut," the source added, Eurogamer.net reports.
Apple is "not going to leave Foxconn and they're not going to leave China," predicted Heather White, a former member of the Monitoring International Labor Standards committee at the National Academy of Sciences. "There's a lot of rationalization," she added, reports Eurogamer writer Fred Dutton.